Oct 31, 1984
The anti-Sikh massacre of 1984 refers to a series of organised pogroms against members of the Sikh community across India by anti-Sikh mobs in response to the assassination of then prime minister (PM) Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards at her residence. After the assassination of Indira on October 31, 1984, anti-Sikh riots erupted in some areas for several days, killing more than 3,000 Sikhs in New Delhi and an estimated 8,000 across India. The perpetrators carried iron rods, knives, clubs and combustible material such as petrol and diesel. They entered Sikh neighbourhoods and killed Sikhs indiscriminately. The violence continued in Punjab in the 1980s due to the armed separatist Khalistan movement, which sought independence from India. In July, 1983, Sikh political party Akali Dal’s then president Harchand Singh Longowal had invited militant religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to take up residence inside the Golden Temple complex in Amritsar to evade arrest. Later, Bhindranwale made the sacred complex an armoury and headquarters of Khalistani militants. In the violent events leading up to ‘Operation Blue Star’ ordered by Indira, the militants supported by Bhindranwale had killed 165 Hindus in India. Operation Blue Star was a military operation carried out between June 1 and 8, 1984, to flush out Bhindranwale and other armed militants from the Golden Temple complex. In the operation, Bhindranwale died and the militants were removed from Golden Temple. The military action was criticised by Sikhs worldwide who had interpreted it as an assault on the Sikh religion. Four months after the operation, Indira was assassinated by her two Sikh bodyguards — Satwant Singh and Beant Singh. Following the assassination, mobs, often instigated by Congress Party leaders, went on a rampage against Sikhs in Delhi and other cities. Over three days, at least 2,733 Sikhs were killed, their property looted and destroyed. Many women were raped in the capital. Hundreds of Sikhs were killed elsewhere in the country. The authorities quickly blamed every incident of mass communal violence on a spontaneous public reaction—Gandhi’s son and successor, Rajiv Gandhi, declared at a rally in the capital, “Once a mighty tree falls, it is only natural that the earth around it shakes.” Many victims, witnesses, and perpetrators have since died, making hopes for justice and accountability more remote with every passing year. Many legal cases collapsed after powerful suspects allegedly threatened or intimidated witnesses. In other cases, poor investigation and tampering of evidence by the police led to acquittals of the accused. Many Congress leaders were believed to be behind the 1984 anti-Sikh massacre. Bharatiya Janata Party and its ally Shiromani Akali Dal have attacked Congress leaders for their role in the massacre. They allege that Congress’ entire apparatus was involved in the 1984 genocide against Sikhs in the national capital. On August 12, 2005, the then PM, Manmohan Singh, had apologised in parliament for the riots. Several cases were registered against Congress leaders HKL Bhagat, Sajjan Kumar, Dharamdas Shastri, Lalit Maken, Babu Ram Sharma and Jagdish Tytler for alleged criminal conspiracy to engineer riots. However, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) closed all cases against Tytler and other leaders in November 2007 for lack of evidence. On April 10, 2013, a Delhi court ordered CBI to reopen the case against Tytler. In January, 2018, the Supreme Court formed a three-member Special Investigation Team (SIT) of its own to probe 186 cases related to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots that were not further investigated by the SIT formed by the government.